The 30 best summer blockbusters ever

TONY ranks the biggest fun machines of all time: the movies designed for maximum impact.



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  • Summer blockbusters: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

  • Summer blockbusters: Ghostbusters (1984)

  • Summer blockbusters: Star Wars (1977)

  • Summer blockbusters: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

  • Summer blockbusters: Jaws (1975)

Summer blockbusters: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)


E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

After being left behind on Earth, a diminutive alien visitor (a triumph of animatronic effects work by Carlo Rambaldi) befriends young suburbanite Elliott (Henry Thomas). They’re both damaged beings—E.T.’s abandonment mirrors Elliott’s pain over his parents’ divorce—who learn to cope with their respective situations even as they look helplessly to the skies and, in the most iconic image, fly gracefully past the moon. E.T. is one of Steven Spielberg’s most personal works, yet was still a border-defying blockbuster—the highest grosser of all time until Jurassic Park supplanted it.—Keith Uhlich

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Ghostbusters (1984)

“Don’t cross the streams!” is sound advice if you’re operating a plasma gun. Ironically, that’s exactly what Ivan Reitman did with this blockbuster, mixing SNL’s snarkiness, horror-lite spookiness and the breakneck pacing of an action flick. (Having Bill Murray, an instantly iconic logo and Ray Parker Jr.’s infectiously catchy theme song didn’t hurt either.) This monster hit broke the bank by demonstrating that mashing up popular genres equaled a something-for-everybody box office bonanza. Every big-budget sci-fi-action comedy that’s goosed multiplex audiences owes this movie a mother-pus-bucket of a debt.—David Fear

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Star Wars (1977)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, people didn’t make pop-cultural touchstones from cannibalized bits of Kurosawa, Joseph Campbell and Flash Gordon. In fact, when George Lucas screened a rough cut of his pulpy cosmic adventure for his film-brat peers, they offered better-luck-next-time condolences. (One person did congratulate him: Steven Spielberg.) When Star Wars finally came out right before Memorial Day, 1977, those same directors watched their bearded buddy reroute Hollywood for the next few decades. Suddenly, space was the place, a movie’s merchandising was enormously important, and the era of the global blockbuster went into interstellar overdrive.—David Fear

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Is there a more purely perfect action hero in all of adventure flickdom than Indiana Jones? (Tom Selleck must still be kicking himself for turning down the role.) Even if audiences knew nothing from the cliff-hanger serials from the 1930s and ’40s—the original inspirations—they did know about Nazis, biblical wrath and snakes. Lots of snakes. Furiously propulsive, Raiders is a triumph of cutting and craft, with composer John Williams having an especially good day in front of the orchestra. But the prime movers behind the project were producer George Lucas, a key creative collaborator, and director Steven Spielberg, brilliant with actors and redemptive moments of humor. If the boy geniuses had indeed won over Hollywood, this movie forecasted a benevolent kingdom.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Jaws (1975)

Imagine a mammoth, sharp-toothed creature that takes cold-eyed pleasure in terrorizing its victims—one that must move forward constantly or perish, that quietly circles its prey before attacking with lightning speed. Now imagine a shark. Given the way that Steven Spielberg’s nail-biter goes after audience’s nervous systems, the film’s resemblance to its leviathan isn’t coincidental: Multiplex thrill rides had never seemed so ruthlessly, efficiently predatory. This was the game-changer, the first to employ a “wide-release” strategy, the first to gross more than $100 million, the moment when this director became “Steven Spielberg,” the template for the must-see modern summer movie. After Jaws, every moviemaker who wanted to leave viewers giddy and gasping knew they’d need a bigger boat.—David Fear

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Users say

Lars T
Lars T

Who is calling or has ever called the Dark Knight a self important mess? That's like a throw away line about how you believe 9/11 was an inside job. Speaking of, I thought this was a list of the "biggest fun machines" ever, and Farenheit 9/11 was number 6. Why is a documentary about one of the worst days in American history and the corruption of our government on a list of summer fun movies? It's like you assembled a list of your favorite mammals and one of David Fear's choices was the color green.


Where is Harry Potter- Deathly Hallows Part 2? IT WAS SOOO EPIC :)